Kausfiles to Rudy: Apologize or Lose

Kausfiles to Rudy: Apologize or Lose

Kausfiles to Rudy: Apologize or Lose

Political commentary and more.
April 8 2000 12:33 AM

Kausfiles to Rudy: Apologize or Lose

Many conservatives in New York seem beyond distraught at Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's plunge in the polls in his race against Hillary Rodham Clinton. In fact, they seem to have slid right past anger and denial into the resignation phase--for an example, see Richard Brookhiser's recent piece in the New York Observer ("Hillary Clinton goes to the Senate. That seems plain enough"). They're steeling themselves for six years of watching Senator Clinton on Tim Russert every other Sunday morning. "She's awful. And she's going to win," one prominent Rodhamphobe told me at a party shortly before the recent Hillary surge. Not even Peggy Noonan's best effort has had a discernible effect. It's been vaporized in the chain reaction set off by the mayor's indefensible smearing of Patrick Dorismond, the Haitian who wound up dead because, apparently, he was insulted to be thought a crack dealer and took a swing at the offender (who turned out to be an undercover cop).

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I was going to write an "Assignment Desk" item tasking columnist John Podhoretz with bucking up the spirits of the anti-Hillary crew--you know, he could write a piece noting that it's a long, long way to November, minds can change, Hillary will herself make mistakes, Giuliani has all that money, etc. Maybe the Pod could offer one or two fresh campaign sub-themes, and presto, he has a good little column. But the more I thought about it, the more I remembered Newt Gingrich, who never recovered from his whining about not being allowed to exit from the front door of Air Force One (which happened more than a year before the 1996 election). The more I asked myself why Giuliani should ever recover from the Dorismond incident, the more I could feel myself gravitating to Brookhiser's "it's over" camp. And the more it seemed to me there is only one clear way out for Rudy.

Apologize.

Not the nuanced halfway nods of consolation he's attempted so far. (Not even halfway: Yesterday he angrily protested when someone pointed out that Dorismond had in fact really been an "altar boy.") I mean a full-fledged, I-was-dead-wrong-please-forgive-me apology. An apology not for the police's conduct but for the mayor's conduct.

This would be completely out of character for Giuliani, of course, which is why it would be so devastatingly effective. After all, the Dorismond case isn't only about race relations and police heavy-handedness and Giuliani's mean streak--though of course it's partly about all of them. It's also about whether New Yorkers want to elect as senator someone who is congenitally incapable of admitting he's been wrong. It's a character test. More subtly, it's about whether Giuliani is a politician astute and forward-looking enough to notice when the old policies that once worked (aggressive, impolitic, tribal policing) have ceased being effective and need to be altered.

Memo to Giuliani: If you still balk at the idea of a public auto-humiliation, consider two things. First, what would your new ally and co-campaigner John McCain do? McCain's as hotheaded and stubborn as you are--but his saving grace, his franchise-making shtick, is his habit of coming back after a tantrum or insult or blooper or scandal and apologizing, with seeming sincerity and humanity. Sometimes he even asks for forgiveness! And he only seems more masculine and less wimpy for making the change.

The second point? Oh yes. Do you really want to spend the rest of your life being known as the guy who got beat by Hillary? ...

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